There is no school today.

You follow your parents up the path into the mountains, looking for grasses and plants with edible roots. You have coupons but there’s no food. Your parents are thinner than you; in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, children are always fed first.

Your country is crossed by many mountain ranges. It’s hard to find the land to grow food, and the season is short. Your teacher told you how between 1961 and 1988 your country doubled the food it could produce by using marginal slopes, irrigating them by pumping water from reservoirs connected by thousands of miles of waterways. Your people were proud to be self-reliant.

But everything took energy. It took electricity to pump the water and manufacture fertilisers. It took oil to run the power stations.

When the Eastern Bloc collapsed in 1991, cheap oil imports ended and power cuts stopped farming. The land dried out. Heavy storms caused floods that destroyed the power stations. When the drought hit, the reservoirs were dry.

They called the famine that killed two million people the ‘Arduous March’, but it hasn’t stopped. Today thirty seven percent of North Korean children are severely malnourished and your leaders rely on food aid from China, Japan, South Korea and the United States to survive.

 

'Arduous March'